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STL Round Table: Conference Expansion

The geographic footprint of the ACC...for this week, at least. via random Syracuse fan, @zibby42.

So, the ACC voted this weekend to add Syracuse and Pitt to the conference. First things first, immediate reaction: Thumbs up, thumbs down?

Meg: Thumbs up ... I guess. I'm not a huge fan of the whole super conference thing. But if it's going to happen, at least the ACC is making moves not to be left behind.

Leung: Big thumbs up. I've mostly just been ignoring the whole conference realignment scene over the past couple weeks (months). Adding two more and bumping the ACC exit fee to roughly $20 million suggests to me that the schools aren't going anywhere. So, can we just stop all this VT-to-SEC talk now, please?

Tim: Definite thumbs up. Not so much because of Syracuse and Pitt, but because of everything that has happened. I've never really been concerned about who the ACC would add to the conference. I was always more concerned about what would happen to the ACC if, for instance, Florida State and Clemson bolted for the SEC. The unanimous vote to increase the exit fee doesn't prevent schools from leaving, of course. But it does show that the intention right now is to make the ACC very relevant in the conference landscape. I'm also impressed with the secrecy with which this all happened. With just about every sports reporter in the country digging for realignment information right now, the fact that this only leaked 48 hours ahead of time is impressive and a credit to Swofford and his team. 

Tiki: I'm happy with it. It makes it very unlikely that the ACC is going anywhere, and I can't imagine there being a BCS without it. Being a NYer, I love the prospect of having Syracuse in the ACC. Some
of my best friends went to ‘Cuse. Plus, they suck at football.

Schwartz: Thumbs up ... under the assumption that expansion is inevitable and the only way to protect the ACC. I like the conference as it stands now and still don't think the concept of expansion is one that benefits UVA. But if it must be done, Pitt and 'Cuse are both great fits in the ACC, will lead to some fun matchups, and will keep the conference stable.

Will: Thumbs up. In the land of "let's see how many schools we can get in a conference" this was a good move by the ACC. We all understand we'll never be the SEC for football so why not try to establish ourselves as one of - if not the - premiere basketball conference, which what this move did. Obviously, football is on everyone's mind right now and it brings in the most money, but when we have Duke-UNC-‘Cuse-UVA as the final four teams in the ACC tournament, the rest of the country is going to take notice. I also think it was a pre-emptive strike. If we ever do lose Clemson/FSU/VT like many think, the ACC should be stacked enough still to last.

More questions and many more answers after the jump ...

Let's start with the sports side of this deal: What does the addition of Pitt and Syracuse do to the ACC as a football conference? Any impact on UVA's program?

Meg: If the football world gets split up into a handful of elite 16-team conferences, at least the ACC is making a case for being one of those conferences. This isn't over. Pitt and Syracuse are good additions from UVA's standpoint, though. They aren't pushovers (Syracuse already beat Wake this year, and Pitt's been bowling the last couple of years), but they aren't an LSU or Alabama (read: near-guaranteed loss) either. They strengthen the conference without seriously hurting UVA's ability to compete in it.

Tim: My first impression is that it doesn't do very much to football. Neither team has been very good in a long while. But they also aren't complete doormats like some other schools we could have added. It's possible that both of them will bubble up to the top on occasion (see: Boston College a few years ago), but in general the top teams (FSU, Miami, VT (ugh), etc) will stay the same for the near future. The only place where it really has an impact is with the scheduling. We're going to have a weird schedule of who we play and how often we play them. But that was going to happen regardless of who we brought in. It's unclear to me how that will impact bowl tie-ins, the BCS, etc. But that's something all the conferences (well, the ones that are left - sorry Big East) are going to be dealing with over the next few years. It'll shake itself out.

How about basketball? Both schools have really strong basketball programs, so the move is indisputably good for ACC basketball, but what does it mean for UVA, particularly for prospects of rebuilding a program that can compete on the national level?

Leung: Tony Bennett is cursing the basketball gods right now, no doubt. The two schools are huge for ACC basketball, and both will have pretty noticeable impact the second they enter the conference. The good news for UVA is that this won't happen for at least a year, maybe a couple years, so the Hoos have some time to continue building this program. I'm not as concerned about this now as I was initially. The recruiting scene won't change much for Virginia, who already fights the uphill battle of recruiting against the Carolina blue bloods. But also, the whole buzz behind Virginia this year and going forward is that Tony Bennett has put together a good defensive scheme (Hey, stop yawning.) and has a TON of talent coming in. People aren't saying that UVA is a sleeper because it has an easy ACC schedule this year, they're saying UVA's a sleeper because they're actually good this year. UVA will have a harder time moving into the top 3 of the ACC, but I don't think this is a huge setback. Also, how much does Jim Boeheim really have left in him?

Tim: I may be in the minority here, but I think this is actually a good thing for UVA. Timing is the primary reason. Assuming that Coach Bennett continues to recruit the way he has the last couple years, and assuming we continue to improve, I think adding two of the better Big East basketball programs will actually help us recruit. We already recruit on a national level against these guys (in fact, we lost one major recruit to Pitt this year). So being in the same conference isn't going to hurt us, I don't believe. But I do think it'll help Bennett recruit because the ACC will clearly be the best basketball conference. If we weren't already two years into what I consider a major upswing in our program, I'd be concerned (and I think a lot of other teams in the ACC should be concerned). But right now I'm cautiously optimistic.

Tiki: I gotta agree with Brian, Tony Bennett is pissed right now. The upside is that it might make recruiting NYC a little bit easier. But the addition of two very good basketball programs is not going to help us. From a football perspective, it should help. It means two more mediocre teams that we should be able to beat consistently, which helps us in terms of bowl eligibility. Of course, it remains to be seen how this will all shake out. Will ‘Cuse and Pitt be split up into the Coastal and Atlantic? Will the divisions go away? So, in truth, we don't really know what the impact will be.

Will: As I said in the previous answer, I don't think this move was as much a football move as it was a basketball move. The good thing is Pitt and ‘Cuse have semi-decent football programs and strong fan bases. I don't envision it having too much impact on UVA's program. Heck, with how bad both have been in recent years, maybe we can avoid playing the other big boys of the conference and get a few more wins every season.

Brian covered the sports records yesterday, but you can't hear "Syracuse" and not think about lacrosse? ACC = best lacrosse conference ever, right?

Leung: EVER.

Tim: It already was the best lacrosse conference. But that says more about the other conferences than it does about the ACC (quick, name another good lax team from the same conference as Syracuse or Hopkins). We already play Syracuse every year, so it doesn't change things too much... except it increases the number of schools we have a legitimate chance of facing 3x/year (regular season, ACC Championship, NCAA Tournament).

And yes, that question about Hopkins was a trick question. 

Tiki: We play ‘Cuse every year, so it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. With so few big time lacrosse programs, conferences almost don't matter.

Schwartz: Yeah, agree with Tiki. Winning a conference title will be tougher. The ACC is now just one team away from getting an automatic tourney bid. This fact basically doesn't matter at all.

Moving away from the sports side, was this a good academic, business, or self-preservation move for the ACC?

Meg: Yeah, I think so. I mean, this thing is happening; we couldn't just sit by and let it pass the ACC by. Pitt and Syracuse fit in pretty well academically and geographically (at least since we added BC a few years back). They fill in a pretty big gap in the ACC's geographic (and TV market) foot print. And, assuming the ACC doesn't lose the Virginia Tech/Florida State/Clemson/Miami end of the conference, we're considerably more viable in the long term (and if we do lose them, well ... we're basically Big East 2.0).

Leung: Like I said earlier, I don't really even consider this much of a self-preservation move for the ACC -- I thought they made that statement relatively clear when all the presidents voted to up the exit fee. To your point about the TV market, this is a HUGE benefit to the ACC! Not only are they adding New York City (whether or not New Yorkers care about college sports to begin with is another question), by adding two teams, the conference can now renegotiate their contract with ESPN. Since the ACC was the first conference to strike a mega-TV deal, we kind of got hosed on the low end of what deals are looking like these days. So expect that to go up in the conference's favor as well. Academically, sure. I love how Virginia Tech fans will say something to the extent of how Pitt/'Cuse are a good fit academically, and how the Hokies are happy to be in a conference with peer academic institutions of this caliber. Did anyone tell them they are 12th in the conference in US News rankings? Only FSU and NC State rank lower. Wait, I think I'm digressing here. Someone else take over.

Tim: All of the above, though I wouldn't necessarily call it self-preservation. It was just a good move overall. The schools have above-average academic profiles, they fit in geographically (yay for making the logo more realistic!), all the schools will get more money from the TV contract, we add the 12 people in New York that care about college sports and we ensure that we're in the forefront of the realignment conversation. No complaints.

Tiki: It's a great deal for the ACC. There was real fear that the football landscape was going to change, and the ACC would be left in the dust. Schools like VT, FSU and Miami would've been gobbled up by the SEC, Big 10, whatever, but the rest of us could've been in trouble. This means that the ACC is going to be around. I simply can't imagine there being 4 "superconferences" without having the ACC and the aforementioned schools included. UVA is safe, for the time being.

Schwartz: It's a self-preservation move. I think it's safe to say that if the SEC and Pac-Something didn't start gobbling up teams, Pitt and Syracuse would not be admitted into the ACC. But the academic and business aspects work also. Academically, these guys are clearly a solid fit. Though we may have lost our ability to speak about that seriously with Virginia Tech's addition. The New York market aspect is a pretty big deal also. Though the city isn't really a "college sports town," it is a sports town. People tend to follow the Big East, and Syracuse has a decent bandwagon by default. The buzz around the city focuses on the Big East Tournament at the Garden in March, and I am excited to see the ACC and the Hoos included in the discussion now. I am sure the conference bigwigs are too.

Will: I haven't really looked in to the academic side of the move but, to get away from basket ball and football, and I don't ever want to talk about lacrosse, this has zero effect on baseball. ‘Cuse has no baseball team and Pitt hasn't had a strong team for as long as I can remember. If they do end up realigning the divisions geographically like many think, UVA should be one of the top two clear winners of the division every year.

The conference has got to be at least considering moving to 16 teams, right? What would your criteria be for the next two teams?

Leung: I think Commissioner Swofford commented that they are "very comfortable" with 14 now, but they are not philosophically opposed to 16. I interpret that as, "Call me." As for criteria, I would want the conference to keep the academic standards (i.e., no West Virginia). They've solidified their position as the top basketball conference, so I don't think I'd be looking for another basketball school. I would want a school that's competitive in football while also bringing some Olympic success to the table. So, not Rutgers either.

Tim: My criteria would be: Two good academic schools, one with a good football program, one with a good lacrosse program. Kidding, sort of. Teams 13 and 14 helped basketball, so we should do something to help football. I do think it would be nice to add a sixth lacrosse team so we can actually have a conference tournament that matters. But frankly, geography and academic profile are the two things that make the most difference to me. We already have what I consider a solid core of teams. Let's not screw it up by adding someone random.

Which schools would you target to get to 16?

Leung: Ideal world? I would want Vandy, for sure. It fits the academic standards, easily. They've always struggled in SEC football, but they did beat a 9-win Boston College team in their 2008 bowl game and I don't think they're a lost cause. They also add a fantastic baseball squad, and were No. 56 in the Directors Cup last year. I actually also want Texas, even though it doesn't fit geographically at all. Great Olympic sports. Even better football and basketball. Awesome academics. The ACC is openly opposed to the Longhorn Network (I think), so it might never happen. Why hasn't Texas just seceded from the union yet? Again, I mean.

Tim: I have no clue. Seriously. I don't think there's any teams that actually fit my ideal profile that aren't already in either the SEC or the Big Ten. And right now I just don't see teams leaving either of those conferences (except maybe Brian's suggestion of Vandy, but I doubt that). Rutgers is probably the closest thing to a school I would target. Fits geographically and academically. They've got a lacrosse program. Their football team isn't completely terrible. But I would want to pair them with someone more football oriented. Like a Penn State or South Carolina. Neither of which is happening. 

Tiki: Again, I echo Brian. Vandy and Texas would be great additions. Texas is weird, as it is nowhere near the Atlantic coast. But then again, neither are Pitt or Syracuse. Texas brings a ton of fans to the conference, and a lot of exposure in one of the best football recruiting grounds in the country. Both have strong Olympic sports programs, and are good academically. Other than those two, I'm going to make a suggestion that may get ridiculed, but I think we should try to get Notre Dame. Another great academic school, with strong Olympic sports. Plus a lot of football fans.

Schwartz: Yes, Vandy would be great ... but I don't see any reason for them to leave the SEC. Notre Dame and Texas are fun (and geographically interesting) ones to throw around too ... though I don't see those as likely options to leave either. My real concern is feeling some pressure to jump to 16 when doing so may harm current members. Talk about admitting Rutgers is insanity - they won't bring in new TV viewers, their football and basketball programs are middling to put it nicely, and they don't have much non-revenue presence. 14 is plenty for now!

Will: I know Swofford said that they aren't really thinking about 16 teams right now, but I know that that had to be a lie. I'm not sure who came up with the "16 teams = super conference" idea but the ACC has bought in to it. I want the ACC to trade VT to the SEC for Vanderbilt and pick up Villanova and UConn or Notre Dame. Obviously that would never happen because Vandy would never let that happen, but they would be competitive in our football conference and they have a very strong basketball program. ‘Nova, UConn and ND all are strong academic institutions and have very strong basketball programs. ND wants to stay independent? That's fine, let them.

Finally, how pissed are you if you're TCU? You leave the Mountain West and commit to ridiculous away game travel to be a part of an AQ conference, and now ... the future of the Big East is at least a little less certain than it was a week ago.

Meg: Oh man, not happy at all. Let's be honest, the Big East is in trouble. Even putting aside BCS status (AQ conferences are contractually set through 2014), the Big East is moving in to TV negotiations soon. That outcome isn't going to be nearly as rosy as it was for the ACC last year (multiple bidders, bigger-than-the-pundits predicted deal). Plus, if the 16-team conference bandwagon keeps rolling, you've got to believe at least the Big Ten will be eyeing some of the remaining Big East teams (everything-but-football member Notre Dame, maybe Rutgers?). The Big Ten says they're staying where they are for now, but Jim Delaney is an evil genius; there's no way he isn't keeping an eye out. Could TCU balk and start talking to a shifting Big 12? What about USF to the SEC? Madness.

Tim: Very, very, very pissed. I have to think that TCU goes looking elsewhere even if the Big east doesn't disband. What their options are, I don't know. I don't even know what their options are for getting out of the Big East. But if they can get out, where do they go? PAC-12 will be PAC-16 soon. Big 12 will be all but gone. I suppose the SEC could theoretically take them as one of the ones to bring them to 16. But I doubt that. Maybe their fellow Texas brethren Baylor can get together and form a "we're pissed and we're from Texas" conference. 

Tiki: I can't even imagine what TCU is thinking right now. They've gotta be pissed. I could easily see them suing the Big East, and getting out of it, and maybe going to the SEC or something.

Schwartz: I'm sure they are sorely disappointed ... but who do they have to be pissed at? They saw the same uncertainty as the rest of us and decided to hitch their wagon to a risky Big East. The gamble clearly didn't play off - the wait-and-see strategy would have been best in hindsight. I feel worse for other wronged fans ... Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, and more are in serious danger of spiraling into obscurity (or worse, Conference USA). These schools are probably in a weaker position now than TCU.

Will: For now, I would be pissed if I was TCU, but they have two years and three football seasons to find a new conference because I doubt the Big East will be around in 2014. They'll live and will probably land in the SEC of the Biggie-Pac (future name of the Pac-12).

What say you Wahoo fans? Booking your travel for the ACC lacrosse tournament now? Dreading facing Syracuse on the court in February? Tired of having to use a map, flow chart and abacus to figure out who's in which conference?